Student center

Black Student Center Oral History Project Launches Feb. 26

Jenn Ho, Archivist of Special Collections, played a critical role in the project. She and Visintainer trained students in oral history methodology.

The project encountered obvious obstacles when the campus remained closed for an extended period due to the pandemic. But once the student team was hired in February 2021, they were onboarded in March. The oral histories were completed at the end of the semester.

“We envision this project to be student-driven, like students learning oral history methodology, then conducting the interviews, and then doing some of that work after the interviews as well,” Visintainer said. “These students were all awesome and really excited about the project.”

Rawlins was part of the BSC for half of the BSC’s existence. During this time, he has witnessed phenomenal growth of the group, both in numbers and in support from the CSUSM community.

He spent much of his early days on campus chatting with faculty, staff, and alumni. His goal was to learn why the CSUSM needed a space like this.

“That’s how we not only use the physical space, but also by thinking about the philosophy of why these types of spaces are important and what they can foster for the student experience,” said Rawlins, who holds a bachelor’s degree in human development from Cornell and a master’s degree in communications from Johns Hopkins. “That’s what really helped me to carry me in my work these two and a half years. To really think about how we create opportunities for students to take charge of their education, to see themselves in what I see as an experience call of cultural affirmation and validation at CSUSM. And help them give their own vision of what it means to succeed as a black student or as a student in general in a university like the CSUSM.

The BSC, which is located at University Student Union 4200, not only creates community space for Black students, but also provides opportunities for professional development and academic success for students, faculty, and staff from all walks of life. It strives to promote an equitable campus through educational services and advocacy support.

The goal is to help students translate this on-campus experience into advocacy for change and equity after graduation.

“We really want black students and their families to see that CSUSM is a viable option,” Rawlins said. “It ranges from the intention of just having a physical space where the two can come together, to the philosophy of how best to use spaces, create community, and for students to find community and succeed.”

Research has shown that students who are more connected to their educational institutions graduate at a higher rate. Maintaining high retention levels is a major goal of every university.

But beyond that is the goal of wanting students to connect to something bigger than themselves. To pique their curiosity in class. To help them respect their differences and find themselves in their similarities.

“Now, of course, that doesn’t mean students won’t have their share of hardships, their share of ups and downs on their journey,” Rawlins said. “But when they know they’re connected to a space and connected to other people, it’s a little easier to deal with some of the tough times you’ve been through in class or even in your personal life. And that has certainly been that space for a lot of students. We’re able to have these conversations to help them realize that you’re going through your academic experience, you’re going through personal circumstances, you don’t necessarily have to go it alone. And if the resource is not in the center, well guess what? We are connected to many other campus partners that we are able to bring this student to help with the assistance they need. And ultimately, I find it helps students really want to be in space and be together.

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